Cemeteries: Places of Rest and Refuge

Every cemetery has stories to tell. Here are a few worth a visit.

Brooke Wilhelmsen Sep 1, 2017

How many of us spent our childhoods holding our breath while passing a cemetery? Or avoiding it altogether? Spooky folklore heightened the eeriness of neighborhood burial grounds. But with age, the ghostly superstitions fade and a cemetery morphs into something much gentler: a beautiful refuge in a busy city, a peaceful place for reflection, a fascinating link to our heritage.

Salt Lake City Cemetery in Salt Lake City, Utah

The sprawling 250 acres overlooking downtown Salt Lake City are home to more than 124,000 graves, 11 of those for LDS prophets. It is also home to herds of deer, foxes, owls and a rich history starting with the first known burial there in 1847 — a child named Mary B. Wallace.

Neighbors of the Salt Lake City Cemetery use it as a destination for peaceful runs or a quiet place to sit. “I go because of how many gravestone benches there are,” says Andy Farnsworth, Avenues resident. “The dead of Salt Lake want us to sit with them.”

Locals Megan and Thomas Dunford visit the city cemetery often, binoculars and ornithology guides in hand. “I’ve seen chickadees, magpies, a variety of hawks, sparrows, other songbirds and one life-lister, a brown creeper,” says Megan proudly. “I also enjoy the cool old names on the gravestones. I’m pretty sure I saw someone named ‘Robbie Rocket.’”

The Salt Lake City Cemetery is packed with unique grave markers and inscriptions. There’s the perplexing “Lilly E. Gray, June 6, 1881-Nov. 14, 1958, Victim of the Beast 666,” and the endearing inscription on the grave of Sarah F. Tanner, who died in childbirth in 1863: “Farewell my dear wife, I bid you adieu, and this our dear babe, I have laid here by you. May heaven’s kind angels guard o’er your grave until from its power you are eventually saved.”

With less than 900 plots left in this expansive cemetery (the largest municipal-owned cemetery in the nation), it is quickly reaching capacity. The city is brainstorming creative ways to use and maintain this sprawling land for the years to come without the perpetual income of plot sales. In the meantime, grab a map from the cemetery office on the corner of 4th Ave. and N Street and wander this remarkable sanctuary.

Sacajawea Cemetery in Fort Washakie, Wyoming

You might need Lewis and Clark’s exploration skills to find the colorful Sacajawea Cemetery where the famous Shoshone interpreter is buried. Sacajawea’s grave, and the rest of the graves in this unique cemetery, are hidden down an unmarked road on the Wind River Indian Reservation between Jackson and Lander, Wyoming. Sacajawea, an Idaho native, was laid to rest there in 1884, flanked by the graves of her two sons and memorialized with a bronze statue of herself holding the sand dollar given to Chief Washakie after making the 3,000-mile trek with Lewis and Clark.

“I have never in my life seen anything like it,” says Ashton Jenkins, whose parents grew up in the nearby cowboy town of Lander. “It’s beautiful and fascinating. Some families placed old iron bed frames over graves of their ‘sleeping’ loved ones. Boxes filled with trinkets and pictures from the deceased’s life sit on top of some graves. We absolutely love it.”

Idaho State Veterans Cemetery in Boise, Idaho

More than 76 acres have been set aside to memorialize America’s servicemen and women at Boise’s Idaho State Veterans Cemetery. Flags fly 24 hours a day on a green hilltop overlooking the cemetery. All who are buried there must meet veteran eligibility standards, and the order and uniformity of the gravesites are akin to the life the soldiers led in service. You only need to wander the grounds for a few minutes to feel a new appreciation for our veterans.

Pioneer Cemetery in Idaho City, Idaho

Wind your way through the heavily forested acres that make up this Wild West graveyard to see headstones dating back to 1863. The Pioneer Cemetery in Idaho City was established during the early years of the gold rush, and its first occupants have storied pasts. It’s estimated to hold 3,000 graves, though only about 300 headstones remain. Of note is the grave of Elizabeth Zipf (1851-1875), surrounded by a dilapidated wood fence with a giant pine growing through the plot.

Spanish Fork Cemetery in Spanish Fork, Utah

The Spanish Fork Cemetery is worth a visit for the weeping lady statue alone, though the beautiful grounds near the entrance to Spanish Fork Canyon are also a good reason to make a stop. Weeping lady statues are a common theme in cemeteries, especially in France where they are called “les pleurants” and are placed to eternally mourn at the grave of a loved one. The weeping lady of the Spanish Fork Cemetery marks the resting place of Laura Daniels Ferreday, who died in 1929 of an infectious tumor. Her husband, Horace, was buried next to her in 1972. It was he who had the statue carved with a poem etched below the kneeling woman, crying into her hand. The poem resembles one by the 19th century poet Robert Richardson: “Warm summer sun shine kindly here, Gentle breeze blow softly here, Mother earth above lie light, lie light, Goodnight sweetheart, goodnight.”

Mount Olivet Cemetery in Salt Lake City, Utah

Across the street from deafening game day cheers at the University of Utah’s Rice-Eccles stadium are the quiet bird chirps inside this peaceful cemetery. “The tame deer are my favorite,” says neighbor Rachel Borup. “I’m not a super spiritual person but they seem to have a spiritual presence in that place.” Mount Olivet has a rich history, founded by an Episcopal bishop in 1874 as an alternative to the Salt Lake City Cemetery for the non-Mormon residents who wanted a place of their own. Find gems like Zealous Wormuth (1837-1901) whose headstone reads, “What a name to live up to.” Or Mathilde Dean Webster’s (1838-1893) marker, which says, “She has done what she could."

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